A match that was billed as a potential thriller for neutrals across the continent, Belgium and Italy did not disappoint as they played out what was an all-action affair in Munich on Friday.
With the likes of England knowing that another European heavyweight would be ending their adventure at the Allianz Arena, a high-flying Gli Azzurri booked their spot in the semi-finals with a 2-1 victory against The Red Devils.
Only continuing to impress at both ends of the pitch and in the midst of what has been a record-breaking run over the past three years, first-half wonder goals from Nicolò Barella and Lorenzo Insigne were enough to come past a Belgium side who have struggled to live up to their billing once again.
While Romelu Lukaku might have handed Belgium a much-needed lifeline before heading into the break, the world’s number one side were once again the bridesmaid on the major tournament stage.
In another knockout classic at this summer’s tournament, we have taken a look at the major talking points.
Can anyone stop Italy?
Opening up this summer’s delayed European Championships with a thumping 3-0 win against pre-tournament dark horses Turkey on home soil, it is no surprise that Italy have only continued to gain a string of plaudits.
Reaching their fourth straight quarter-finals at the EURO’s, despite failing to book a spot out in Russia three years ago, Gli Azzurri have extended their remarkable unbeaten run to 32 matches on the bounce, their longest record in almost eight decades.
Almost opening the scoring out in Munich after just 13 minutes before Leonardo Bonucci’s flicked effort was ruled out by VAR, Roberto Mancini’s side put in an all-attacking display on Friday and were more than worthy winners against a Belgium side they hold a wonderful record against.
Now unbeaten in each of their last five meetings against The Red Devils on the major tournament stage, Italy will find their confidence at a real high as they meet fellow heavyweights Spain at Wembley next week in another mouthwatering affair.
One not enough for Lukaku
With all eyes in Belgium’s camp firmly on the fitness of both Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne before making the trip out to Munich, Roberto Martinez’s side were really missing skipper on Friday night.
Although De Bruyne might have been fit enough to take his place from the start, the Real Madrid superstar had to nervously watch on from the stands as Romelu Lukaku tried to fire his side to their second semi-final in as many major tournaments.
However, although 19-year-old speedster Jérémy Doku might have shown glimpses after winning Belgium a controversial penalty in first-half injury time, Lukaku had what was a mixed night in front of goal.
Despite converting from the spot and handing Martinez’s side a much-needed boost heading into the break, the Inter Milan ace will be ruing some costly mistakes, most notably a glaring miss with half an hour to play.
Failing to tap home from a couple of yards out following De Bruyne’s inch perfect ball, Lukaku largely failed to get much change out of Italy’s famously rugged defence.
Gli Azzurri’s veterans stand strong
While Nicolò Barella and Lorenzo Insigne’s first-half wonder strikes might steal most of the headlines, Italy’s gladiator-like defence deserves plenty of praise for what was yet another rugged display at the Allianz Arena.
Glad to have been able to welcome back defensive talisman and skipper Giorgio Chiellini, the 36-year-old put on a monumental display alongside Bonucci and the iconic duo used all of their experience to overcome a late Belgium charge.
Playing a vital role in what has been Mancini’s stunning resurge over the past three years, Italy have conceded just a single goal from open play in over 20 hours of action.
Although the former Manchester City boss would have been glad to see Chiellini make his return after missing Gli Azzurri’s last two matches with a muscle injury, Italy would have been devastated to see Leonardo Spinazzola have to be stretchered off in the second-half.
Appearing in real distress after pulling off a stunning block on the line to deny Lukaku, the Roma left-back suffered a reported Achilles tendon rupture, which could keep him out for several months.
End of the road for Martinez?
While Belgium might have opened this summer’s delayed European Championships tipped as one of the standout picks along with a recently departed France, it was another major tournament that slipped by for The Red Devils.
With many feeling that Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ are seeing their chances of international success slip away, there will undoubtedly be further questions as to whether Roberto Martinez is the one to take them forward.
Eventually having to settle for a bronze medal finish out in Russia at the 2018 World Cup finals, this is also the second time on the bounce that the one-time Wigan boss has seen his side crash out of the European Championships at the quarter-final stage.
Still currently ranked as the number one nation in the FIFA standings and with a World Cup just around the corner, Martinez has been heavily linked with a potential return to club management over the past few months.
Belgium: Courtois (6), Alderweireld (5), Vermaelen (5), Vertonghen (4), Meunier (4), Witsel (6), Tielemans (7.5), Hazard (6), De Bruyne (7.5), Doku (7), Lukaku (6)
Subs: Chadli (N/A), Praet (5), Mertens (5)
Italy: Donnarumma (6.5), Di Lorenzo (6), Bonucci (7.5), Chiellini (8), Spinazzola (7.5), Jorginho (7), Barella (8), Verratti (8), Immobile (5), Chiesa (7), Insigne (8)
Subs: Belotti (5), Emerson (5), Cristante (5), Berardi (4), Toloi (N/A)
Goals: Belgium: Lukaku 45+2′ (Penalty) – Italy: Barella 31′, Insigne 44′
Yellow Cards: Belgium: Tielemans – Italy: Verratti, Berardi
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Slavko Vinčić
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